Thursday, August 20, 2015

How I spent my summer vacation

The penultimate pitch; the next one would loft weakly to centerfield
to end the game …
The A's beat the Dodgers 5-2. That's an important detail.

Not the most important, but a satisfying denouement.

It was a win-win for Rob and me: The Oakland A's won (he's happy) and the Los Angeles Dodgers lost (I'm happy).

The Giants didn't gain any ground, losing later that day to the Cardinals. We heard the bad news over the radio on the drive home.

The most important detail is we were Doing Something Out of the Ordinary — not going to work! In the middle of the week! To a ballgame!

An A's game! Quite out of the ordinary for me, not an A's fan.

(I could have been, in an alternate universe. Were I an adult while the A's were winning back-to-back-to-back World Series in the early 1970s, in their garish green and yellow uniforms, retro handlebar mustaches and wild muttonchops dripping from their faces, I would have found them inviting and refreshing.

But I was a kid adhering to inexplicable kid logic in liking the San Francisco Giants, and decided the A's were piratical and anathema.*#

That feeling has stuck, all these years hence.)

In an alternate universe, I would have loved the A's ballpark, now called the®™ Coliseum (naming rights are not always pretty). It feels small inside, close in, intimate. As a kid, I would have lost my breath at first look of the emerald grass, glass flat and carefully brushed by optical illusion to different shades of green, and would have picked the A's for life, just as I had with the Giants on first sight of the grass at Candlestick Park — Giants vs. Cubs doubleheader, almost 43 years to the day before yesterday's game.

Nearly 25 years ago, I sat almost opposite the vantage point of this image, high in the upper deck, now blocked off by great green tarps. My brother-in-law had invited me to Game 4 of the World Series. The Cincinnati Reds swept the A's in four games. A National League fan, I had to sit on my hands that game and withstand the gnashing of teeth around me.

It was the last time I had been to the coliseum.

This was a happy return. Rob had bought some great seats, as you can see, just to the third base side of home plate, about 10 rows back. I have never sat so close; the players appeared actual human size, and strangely not heroic. They loom in closeup on TV, their twitches and mutterings and hard stares and wild shouts writ large. In person this close, their strikeouts and hard groundouts and even their curving rocketed home runs seem ordinary, as if a bunch of fans had climbed down from the stands to play a game of pickup.

Rob and I had hung around in the journalism department back in college, and re-met a year or so ago through the miracle of facebook®™, learning we had migrated to the same city. He reminded me yesterday that I had even taken his place in an apartment with another friend after he went off and graduated.

We were playing hooky in the least delinquent manner, planning ahead, notifying bosses, warning family, changing our out-of-office messages.

"We look exactly like we're going to our one game for the year," I said. We had our wide-brimmed sun-blocking hats, our street clothes like we were going to an after-work mixer (if we were after-work mixers kind of people), our sunscreen to be applied later.

Weekday ballgames used to be called businessmen's specials, and we fit the yesteryear profile, even if our office was two hours back northeast.

We had not a stitch of league-approved baseball gear on, and probably looked out of place joining a sea of jerseyed and hatted fans — overwhelmingly Dodgers' fans — salmon-running into the stadium.

It was the second to last jam we sat in, getting to the ballpark, interstates 80 and 880 having clogged on the way into Oakland. For the briefest moment in our planning, we entertained taking public transportation, and the nostalgic notion of hopping the train from Sacramento right to the porch of the ballpark.

The price quickly put us off. Memo to Amtrak®™ and other purporters of public conveyance: Really?! If you want us to use your ride and ease the traffic mess and reduce our carbon footprint, wouldn't you make the price somewhere approaching reasonable?

The slow jam didn't bother us. We got to catch up. We got to see the architectural details of buildings on the side of the freeways in Oakland, the massive Star Wars™®-inspiring white loading derricks of the Port of Oakland.

Twenty bucks to the attendant at the entrance of the Coliseum parking lot, and after that we were on our own to find a way around the lot without getting hit.

Twenty-two bucks and change for two beers, which tasted good; something about the ballpark. The woman who poured the beers was cheery and genuinely glad to serve us. The beer tasted better.

You don't want to know how much for the sweet Italian sausages and drinks, served by another friendly woman who seemed to know the best way to combat the frustration fans feel over the traffic jam of humanity at the hot dog counter was to greet them warmly and make them glad they bought lunch at her window.

"You gotta splurge every once in a while," said Rob, and he was right.

We sat in the sun, I in my completely sun-blocking camping hat and long-sleeved shirt.

"Aren't you hot?" said the young Dodger fan next to me, wise despite the error of his allegiance. I was, but I wasn't going to tell him. I sat still except for helping the fan in front of me who, along with his mother, started some timely "Let's go, Oakland! (CLAP CLAP clap clap clap)" rally cheers.

The son was wearing a Rickey Henderson No. 24 jersey, old school. Mom swooned for current player Josh Reddick, he of the long auburn locks, and wore the rightfielder's jersey.

Reddick went 0-for-3 yesterday, but it didn't matter. Despite a two-run homer by Dodgers' waning shortstop Jimmy Rollins (who I was sure would die a Philadelphia Phillie), the A's put together a couple of innings of bat-'em-around baseball to cut down the Dodgers and quiet their fans, who left without incident.

Reed-thin starting pitcher Jesse Chavez held the Dodgers to that home run and one other hit over eight innings, striking out Rollins as his final act.

The A's have the worst record in Major League Baseball, but it didn't matter. They beat the leader of the National League West division.

The Dodgers had lost the night before too, the A's winning in a 10th inning walk-off base hit, which I commend highly.

Crawling out of the stadium, on the freeway at 30 mph up I-80 until past Vallejo, we didn't care. We got the chance to talk about everything and nothing. Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper on the radio narrated the Giants' tenuous lead against the Cardinals, then the sad news that the Giants had lost, unable to keep one more home run from escaping the field.

The day flew by too soon, the game ending too fast, as did that one good beer. We were not quite ready for work the next morning, but we'd muddle through.

Just the way summer vacation should be.

* piratical and anathema, two words I didn't use as a kid, and barely know how to use now.
# really good name for an alternate universe alt rock band …

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